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What is purchase intent and how to measure it with surveys

When it comes to projecting sales, revenues and profits, purchase intent is one of the most important data points that you’ll need to know.

Woman at grocery story holding a can and looking at her phone

Purchase intent helps you make efficient decisions across other areas of your business. For example, if you have a rough estimate of whether and how much your customers are willing to buy in the immediate to near future, you’ll be able to predict your inventory, minimize waste and optimize costs by understanding purchase intent. 

It also makes it easier for sales professionals to know where to focus their efforts. Attempting to sell to customers who have no intent to make a purchase is often a difficult sale to fulfill. 

So, when it comes to marketing, purchase intent is a powerful piece of information. In this article, we’ll go into more detail about what purchase intent is, the factors that are likely to shape it, and crucially, how to measure it, using surveys.

Purchase intent, also known as buyer intent, describes the extent to which customers are willing and inclined to buy a product or service from you within a certain period of time, typically over the next 6 or 12 months. 

First, let’s clarify what we mean by purchase intent by using an example. Imagine that a customer is starting to think about buying a new sofa. The precise point when that consideration turns into intent depends on exactly where the customer is in the customer journey. For instance:

Stage 1: Awareness or need recognition

At the awareness stage of the journey, the customer becomes aware of their need to purchase a certain product. For instance, a customer may recognize that their sofa is outdated or no longer fits in their preferred room design, or it may be damaged. The customer recognizes the need to buy at this stage, but they may not necessarily be ready to translate this need into intent because preliminary research needs to be conducted.

Stage 2: Interest or search

The second stage of the consumer purchasing journey is to search for information. At this point, the consumer begins to look for and research information about various products and services on the market before making their ultimate decision. Customers have a number of different sources of information available to them. For instance, in our sofa example, customers might research websites belonging to various furniture stores, order catalogs, or speak to friends and family about their previous purchases. The customer has a weak intent to buy and may not have a firm idea about which retailer to purchase from. Knowing whether customers are at this stage in their journey will help to inform marketing activities such as your advertising or efforts to improve awareness of your brand. 

Stage 3: Desire

Once the consumer has gathered sufficient information to inform their purchase decision, they're in a position to evaluate the alternative products that are available to them. At this stage, purchase intentions are solidified, and you’ll be interested in whether customers are considering buying from you

Stage 4: Action

Towards the end of the customer journey, the customer actually buys the product and consumes it, either immediately, or at a later date. However, research shows that there are occasional differences between what a consumer plans to do and what they actually do. For example, customers may have settled on purchasing a sectional sofa but change their mind at the last minute when they enter the store to make the purchase. So, at this stage, you should gather as much information as possible about the specifics of the intended purchasing decision such as the amount customers expect to spend. This will help you better meet their needs.

As you can see, purchase intent is more complicated than it would otherwise appear, and customers have different purchase intentions at different inflection points along the customer journey. They may shift from searching broadly for products and services to looking at reviews for a specific product right before they're about to make a purchase. It’s crucial for you to know where they're in that journey if you are to serve their needs. 

Let's take a look at some of the other factors that shape purchase intent. 

Examples of some of the factors that impact purchase intent include:

  • Seasonality

Certain goods tend to be sold at different times of the year. However, this is not always obvious, so make sure you find out directly from your customers whether and how seasonality is impacting purchase intent for your products. For example, some people buy rain boots once it starts raining, but others are more savvy and buy out of season in order to get deals.

  • Existing customer satisfaction

This is a key driver for purchase intent. Believe us: dissatisfied customers are more likely to have intent to buy elsewhere. Below, we’ll show you how to use customer satisfaction surveys to capture insight into how happy your customers are with your existing products and your brand overall. There’s also more information in our detailed market research guide.

  • Customer demographics

Depending on your product or service, customer demographics might shape purchase intent. For instance, customers of different income groups might purchase certain goods more frequently. When collecting data on purchase intent, we recommend gathering a variety of customer demographic metrics so that you can compare intent across different customer segments.

  • Advertising

Advertising is designed to drive sales, and so you should expect it to affect purchase intent, and hopefully in positive ways. For more information on how you can evaluate your advertising efforts and their impact on purchase intent, read a recent article about brand tracking surveys.

If a customer is at the search stage of their journey, building brand awareness will be key. If a customer is ready to buy, however, promotions and coupons might turn those intentions into a sale. Let’s take a look at some surveys that can be used to gather data that will assist in the estimation of purchase intent. 

Brand tracking surveys are great for determining purchase intent. That’s because brand tracking surveys monitor several different aspects of the health of your brand at the same time, including awareness of your brand, usage and consumption of your brand, brand reputation, image, and perceptions. If customers have a positive image or perception of your brand and are aware of it, this increases the chances that they'll actually buy from you. Remember, however, that these aspects change all the time. So, it's crucial to continually track changes in your brand health.

Product testing surveys can help collect feedback and insights from customers about purchase intent. For example, some furniture companies now allow customers to trial furniture at home over a period of weeks or even months. This improves the chances that the customer will be satisfied (more on customer satisfaction next), and that their needs are met. Consider using a product testing survey to get feedback from customers on their experiences testing your product or service, because this will provide you with an excellent prediction of whether or not they'll actually buy it. 

One aspect of the marketing funnel that is often overlooked is the loyalty end of the funnel. Don’t forget that loyal customers tend to spend more than new customers, and so understanding purchase intent among loyal customers is critical. As a first step, we recommend administering customer satisfaction surveys. Determining whether customers are satisfied with your product or service can help provide insightful data on the chances of that customer making another purchase in the future. For a fuller picture, also consider administering customer satisfaction surveys to your competitors’ customers. After all, customers that are not satisfied with your rivals’ offerings may have purchase intent for yours.

As you probably know, the costs of advertising are spiralling. So, it’s crucial to be confident that your advertising monies are well spent - and that means gathering data about the impact of your advertising. Ad testing surveys are helpful for determining the performance of advertisements, in order to determine which messaging resonates with customers and which can therefore influence purchase intent. Before you spend a penny on advertising, it's worthwhile testing various messages on a pilot group of consumers to see which land, and which lack impact. That way, you can craft advertising campaigns that have the power to drive purchasing intent.  Select an audience that mimics your consumers in terms of demographics like age, gender and occupation.  And, once you’ve finished with your advertising campaign, we recommend brand tracking to measure impact. 

There are a number of different question types that you can use to measure purchase intention. Each question format can be used to yield different types of information, so you will need to consider the objectives of your purchase intent survey when selecting questions. We have some examples to help you below:

Likert Scale questions are used to gauge respondents’ opinions and feelings, and can determine how people feel about your product or service. For example, in order to gauge the likelihood of a future purchase from a target set of customers,  you might present respondents with the following statement, and ask them to indicate their degree of agreement.

Question: I will probably buy a new sofa in the next 12 months. 

  1. Strongly disagree
  2. Disagree
  3. Neither agree nor disagree
  4. Agree
  5. Strongly agree

Using this information, you’ll be able to disaggregate your target audience into customers who have stronger and less strong purchase intentions, and to focus your efforts to drive sales at the appropriate audience. Top 2 Box score analysis is especially useful here. It combines the top two responses of a Likert scale question (in this case, agree and strongly agree) to create a summary of positive sentiment towards a statement. In this case, combining the top 2 scores can help to reach a measure of purchase intent. Learn more about how you can use Likert style survey questions for insight into customer behaviors.

Rating scale questions ask respondents to rate intentions on a numeric scale, such as a 0–10 scale. For instance, you might ask survey respondents to rate the likelihood that they would choose your product or service over those offered by a competitor. This will give you a sense of purchase intentions relative to purchase intentions of competing products. 

Ranking questions can help you to understand the popularity of their product or service.  These types of questions are particularly insightful when delivered to customers who are at an earlier stage in the purchasing journey, because it can help to to understand where you stand relative to your competitors, or which of your product lines are more appealing to certain categories of customers. 

An example ranking question you might use is:

Rank the following sofa brands in order of preference. 

Answer options might include a few different choices that a customer would rank. If your brand is scored low in this list, this is an indicator that you need to work on your brand health

Multiple choice questions are the most popular survey question type and are easy for respondents to answer, making data collecting easier when conducting surveys.  That’s because survey respondents are presented with a series of answer options, which reduces their sense of burden and enables them to move through the survey quicker. Multiple choice questions are useful in determining the timescale over which customers are willing to make purchases - vital information for projecting sales and demand. For instance, you might ask survey respondents:

Question: When do you expect to buy a new sofa?

  1. In the next 3 months
  2. In the next 6 months 
  3. In the next 12 months
  4. I have no plans to buy a new sofa in the near future

Armed with information gleaned from this question, your sales department can focus their attention on customers that are willing to commit to a purchase in the immediate to near future,  and can avoid customers who are uncertain or have no plans to make a purchase in the near future. 

Multiple choice questions are also useful in quantifying estimated future purchases, helping you to estimate revenues. A question you might administer to get at this crucial information is:

Question: How much would you be willing to pay for a new sofa? 

  1. Around $500
  2. Around $1000
  3. Around $2000
  4. Around $3000
  5. $3000+

This is critical information in helping you to make efficient decisions about whether to focus your marketing attention.  For instance, if it turns out that most of your customers expect to pay around $1000 or less for a sofa, promotions and other marketing efforts should be focused on this line of products.

Now that you know what purchase intent is, why it's important to measure it, and how to use surveys to capture all important purchase intent data, you might be ready to get started.  Click for information on how our brand tracker can help with measuring and analyzing purchase intent. Or, if you are ready to measure the impact of a new marketing campaign on purchase intent, see this guide.

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